Apparently this question has come up lately. Old, Snarky Me would probably have written a whole post arguing with people who are not fans of it, poking at their reasons and potential biases, and all that fun diversity-shredding business we are all so good at. But as I have taken to heart the imperative to “build up or fuck off,” I have decided instead to write a positive post about what online community specifically has done for me.
For the record, I have put time and energy into meatspace community before. During my turn as a high priestess of modest acclaim, I taught in-person classes, led public rituals, gave seminars, held office in the Covenant of the Goddess, and all that good stuff. At the same time I was writing for publication, teaching in an online school, editing the quarterly journal of the Fellowship of Isis, and…
…and well, I suppose it just makes sense that something had to give. In my case, the something was sleep. I completely lost the ability to fall or stay asleep by any natural means, and of course the rest of my health disintegrated accordingly. I tried natural remedies and my normal range of mood-balancing abilities; then I dropped every obligation I had, one by one, trying to ease the stress enough and conserve my collapsing energies; I underwent multiple tests, tried various medications and gadgets, before finding the cocktail that would allow me to at least spend a few hours a night knocked unconscious and stop the hemorrhaging of my life force. A couple of years went by between that and the discovery of an antidepressant that, when added in, made my sleep feel closer to natural and thus more useful – of course, I found it when I went to the neurologist after having developed intracranial hypertension. A few more years went by, during which, painfully slowly, I tried to rebuild any small fragment of the energy it takes to have an external life with standing commitments. Meanwhile, the coping mechanisms that had failed me on sleep were also failing me on my “high-functioning” autism, which left me much more sensitive to unwanted surprises, noise, interpersonal misunderstandings, and the like than I had been before.
It’s been a very long, very hard road. It has only been this year that I’ve reached the point where I was able to drop Ambien out of my sleep cocktail, something I count as a major victory. Likewise it has only been this year that I have peeked back out of my hole enough to write, and to participate in small ways in the larger community. Most of the latter has been online.
Why? Because the friends I have online are the ones who have been able to be with me through this long, tortuous process. Indeed I met some of them while I was in it, even because I was in it. Fellow Pagan* women who were autistic and/or had IH, some of whom, like me, veiled when out amongst people in public to prevent being flooded by other people’s energies. Fellow Pagans who didn’t feel healthy or mobile or pro-wilding enough to go to primitive campsites. Fellow Pagans who couldn’t afford to go on that neat pilgrimage to another continent but really did want to talk about the gods. Fellow Pagans whose preferences or experiences put them outside their local norm but well within the scope of who could get together online and share our tips and stories.
For years, that has been as much community as I was physically, emotionally, or mentally ready for, and it has been good to me. Even now, as I occasionally step out for a social outing with my near neighbors or even a convention or two, I hold those online friends and spaces dear. They have supported in me in ways meatspace community was simply not able to do. For that very simple reason, I consider online community worthy to exist alongside meatspace community, as adjunct but also in its own right, under its own auspices.
*Oh, right – I keep forgetting that Pagan and Polytheist are supposed to be two opposed camps now. I’m not really feeling it, but I suppose it means I should point out that I really mean “Pagan and Polytheist” throughout this paragraph.